The office of the Attorney General gave advice to the police during the criminal investigation into the Christian Chandler matter without any involvement, input or consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
This was confirmed by DPP Roger Gaspard, SC, in an affidavit dated June 28, 2022, which was submitted to the High Court in a case arising out of an application for information from the DPP on this matter filed by social activist Ravi Balgobin Maharaj, who was represented by former AG Anand Ramlogan, SC.
Current Local Government Minister Faris Al-Rawi was the attorney general at the time. The DPP stated that his office was not consulted when legal advice was prepared by the Office of the Attorney General and tendered to the police in the Chandler matter.
On August 2, 2021, Coast Guard officers intercepted a private yacht named Knot Guilty off the coast of Chaguaramas, with a significant quantity of arms and ammunition. At the time of interception, then-head of TTPS Legal Department, Christian Chandler, was on board the pleasure craft, which belonged to him, with 13 other people. The incident at sea arose after a woman claimed she was being held against her will on the yacht.
Arising out of this incident Chandler was eventually charged under the Emergency Powers (Covid-19 Regulations 2021), which made it an offence to be found at any beach, sea, river or any similar body of water for recreational purposes.
He was also charged with wilfully obstructing members of the Coast Guard and also for possession of a firearm not covered by a firearm user’s licence.
A Sunday Express report dated October 17 stated that the office of the Attorney General had provided advice to the police that Chandler was not in breach of Covid regulations when he was detained.
That Sunday Express report was quoted by Balgobin Maharaj in his application and in his affidavit, because he said it raised concerns in him about the role of the attorney general in “this high profile sensitive criminal investigation”.
The letter of request for information was sent to the DPP by electronic mail on November 5, 2021. The Office of the DPP acknowledged receipt on the same date, but failed to respond.
In view of this failure to respond, Freedom Law Chambers sent a pre-action protocol letter to the DPP on December 21, via electronic mail, and on January 7, 2022, via registered mail, notifying him (the DPP) of Balgobin’s intention to apply for judicial review.
On March 29, 2022 Maharaj received leave to file for judicial review. The DPP sought and received an extension of time to file his affidavit, which was filed on June 28, 2022, and in which he confirmed that he was never consulted on the legal advice proffered by the Office of the Attorney General to the police.
The DPP in a letter to Balgobin’s attorney, dated June 27, 2022, submitted the responses to the four questions posed by Balgobin Maharaj and also detailed the same replies in his affidavit. The DPP said he was informed of Balgobin Maharaj’s intention to file for judicial review. The DPP explained his failure to provide the requested information.
“Due to the very heavy workload of the Department and other professional commitments and the fact that this Office is grossly understaffed by approximately 50 per cent over the last several years, the Office of the DPP has to give priority to criminal matters and therefore was unable to respond to the Claimant’s request for information before now,” he said.
The DPP also stressed: “For the avoidance of doubt I state that in considering the issue of whether charges were to be laid against Mr Christian Chandler, I have acted in accordance with my constitutional mandate under Section 90 of the Constitution. I have exercised my powers independently, free from any outside influence, direction or control of any person or office holder and in my deliberate judgement.”
The questions and answers
Following are the four questions posed by Balgobin Maharaj and the DPP’s responses:
1. Did the DPP grant permission to the Attorney General to provide legal advice to the investigative team of police officers who were investigating the events that occurred on August 5 concerning Chandler?
THE DPP RESPONDED: “The DPP did not grant any such permission to the Office of the Attorney General. The DPP does not have any powers to grant such permission and the granting of such permission would be contrary to the DPP’s constitutional role.”
2. Was the office of the DPP consulted or involved in the preparation of advice tendered by the Office of the Attorney General to the effect that Chandler was not in breach of the Covid-19 regulations on the said day?
THE DPP RESPONDED: “The Office of the DPP was not consulted nor involved in the preparation of any advice tendered by the Office of the Attorney General.”
3. Was the office of the DPP aware that the office of the Attorney General provided legal advice to the police officers who were investigating the said matter?
THE DPP RESPONDED: “At a conference with certain police officers investigating the said matter, the DPP was told by them that other advice had been received from the office of the Attorney General.”
4. Did the office of the Attorney General, at the time it tendered the legal opinion to the police, simultaneously provide a copy to the DPP?
THE DPP RESPONDED: “The DPP was not provided by the Office of the Attorney General with any legal opinion, at any time.”
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